It has become clear that the IDF manages its land in a scandalous way. This is possible because the army enjoys full autonomy regarding this land – as it does in most of its activities – and civilian bodies don’t supervise it.
By Reuven Pedatzur

It is common knowledge that the Israel Defense Forces is an army with a state attached. In the state comptroller’s report that was published late last week, it turns out that the IDF is also an army with the state’s real estate at its disposal. Some 80 percent of the country’s land is either under the IDF’s direct control, or the army has the authority to restrict its use. And if this amazing fact is not enough, the army treats this deposit with disrespect and irresponsibility; as a result, the losses and unnecessary expenses amount to billions of shekels.

It has become clear that the IDF manages its land in a scandalous way. This is possible because the army enjoys full autonomy regarding this land – as it does in most of its activities – and civilian bodies don’t supervise it. And when there is no oversight, the army wastes money and is contemptuous of the financial losses, knowing that it will not have to account for its behavior. The Defense Ministry and the Israel Lands Administration, which is responsible for overseeing the way the army manages its land, don’t even try to do so. The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee has no idea what the IDF is doing with its state land, the cabinet was never made aware of the scale of the scandal, and the army goes on its merry way without interruption.

Already in 1993, the government decided to vacate army camps and live-fire zones in areas where there is a big demand for land, and to transfer the land to the lands administration. (One-third of state lands are live-fire zones. ) As of February 2010, many dozens of live-fire zones and facilities, covering a total of 55,000 dunams, had not yet been vacated by the IDF.

Some of the facilities the IDF did vacate but which remained under its control are a serious environmental hazard. The abandoned facilities contain destroyed buildings, potholes and waste. Some of them, where there are no fences and no guards, are a danger to anyone who can enter without being stopped.

The contempt for regulations and military orders is so great that some of the camps were abandoned without getting permission from the army’s planning branch. It’s hard to believe, but the state comptroller says there may be more abandoned camps the planning branch is unaware of.

The IDF is totally apathetic to the waste that has ensued from leaving these abandoned camps in its hands. In one case, for example, the IDF refrained from investing NIS 1 million in completing the evacuation of a camp but was required to pay municipal tax of several million shekels for an abandoned and neglected camp. The IDF does whatever it likes with state land. It takes control of land that was not allocated to it and enlarges its facilities as it sees fit. In one case, 14 dunams were allocated to the army, but it took over another 106 dunams!

In 2005, the government decided to move IDF camps to the Negev. Since then the project has effectively been stuck. The reason is a difference of opinion between the finance and defense ministries about the funding sources. The prime minister and the ministers of defense and finance are not trying to solve the problem; meanwhile hundreds of millions of shekels are going to waste.

This is partly because there is no choice but to invest a great deal of money in improving many of the facilities’ infrastructure, an investment that will go down the drain when these facilities are transferred to the Negev. Tens of millions of shekels that the Defense Ministry received for planning the transfer of the bases have already gone down the drain because the process is being prolonged. In the same way, valuable land in the center of the country that could be built on and help lower housing prices is not being vacated.

And what are the officials at the Defense Ministry doing? Since Ehud Barak took over as defense minister, he has not held one serious discussion on transferring IDF bases to the south.

In the chapter devoted to recommendations, the comptroller calls on the government to tighten its oversight of the IDF’s use of land and at long last solve the dispute that is preventing the camps from moving to the Negev. He also wants the government to draw up a plan to clean up the abandoned and neglected IDF camps and take them over.

It can be assumed that, following a debate by the State Control Committee during which Knesset members will click their tongues and the IDF will say it intends to implement the comptroller’s recommendations, nothing will actually change. The IDF will continue on its merry way, billions will continue to go down the drain, and if there is a need (and there always is ), it’s always possible to ask for, and get, more money for the defense budget.